WikiMania Hackfest

I’m in Frankfurt am Main, Germany this week for Wikimania. The conference itself starts on Friday, and I’ll be speaking on the history of collaborative tools on Saturday. With the encouragement of fellow alumnus Samuel Klein, I decided to come a few days early to participate in Hacking Days. It’s been an excellent opportunity to immerse myself with the Mediawiki developers, as well as a way to get to know some of the more active members of the Wikipedia community before the throngs arrive later this week.    (JJD)

It’s been over 15 years since my last trip to Europe, and this is my first work trip here. Frankfurt is as good a place as any to cushion folks like me from culture shock. While I’m nowhere near fluency, English is a Germanic language, and I took two years of high school German, so I recognize vocabulary here and there. Plus, most people speak English, especially here in Frankfurt, which is a European travel hub.    (JJE)

The conference itself is at the Haus der Jugend, a large Youth Hostel in the center of the city. Most of the participants and speakers are staying here at the hostel, which makes things very collegial. I’m rooming with Kurt Jansson, the president of the German chapter of Wikimedia Foundation, and Juan David Ruiz (Chile) and Ascander Suarez (Venezuela), core members of the Spanish chapter. It’s given me both an international take on Wiki culture and a bird’s eye view on the inner workings of the Wikipedia community.    (JJF)

I love the international flavor of the community and the conference itself. I had a great conversation with Delphine Menard, a French woman who handled the event’s logistics. She’s lived all over the world and speaks three languages fluently. As I gushed about the importance of being around a diverse group and about experiencing the feeling of being an outsider, she observed that based on her experiences, in the end, people are more or less the same, regardless of background. True, true. Everybody is people. When you interact with others who are different from yourself, you realize that we all share some very human values. You can’t truly reach that conclusion without experiencing diversity first-hand.    (JJG)

Watching the developers work was interesting. It was very much like watching a face-to-face IRC discussion. Folks sat around a table with their laptops open and participated in multiple conversations — both face-to-face and over IRC — and activities simultaneously. I’ve been playing ethnographer and collecting observations, which I’ll bring to people’s attention more formally on Thursday.    (JJH)

Samuel and I talked a bit about Wikiness and the aversion that hard core Wiki developers seem to have over WYSIWYG editing. WikiText is not essential to the Wikiness of Wikis. Ward Cunningham himself has stated on record that GUI editing is the next big step in the evolution of Wikis.    (JJI)

I’m in Frankfurt through Monday and in Berlin after that, so if you’re in town, let me know.    (JJJ)